Lying in the snow with head turned in a wistful expression, her body mourned the loss of its soul. Glassy eyes reflected only white, expansive and empty as a small cloud of warmth whispered into the still air. A gasp, a shudder. A cough. The corpse never shook, laid still, every sound disembodied like a bad dub-over, like someone hanging out off-screen. The texture of skin stiffened, growing rougher and harder than the ice it lay on, the little flakes of frost no longer melting against her pallid cheeks, no longer melting when it fell on her from the sky. But that wasn't her.
Anne kicked lightly at her own corpse, nudged her old cheeks to feel the texture. It was oddly pliable, but it was getting stiffer.
“Hey, you gonna stand there staring all day?!”
Death approached with exasperation.
“I don't die everyday. It's pretty cool. I've been composing some poetry about it, kind of half-mourning...” she drifted off in a brief reverie, but returned with lightness. “Do you think I look pretty dead? C'mon, be honest and I won't hold it against you.”
As was to be expected of a being older than time, Death was not amused and did not emote. “Let's go,” it said with the voice of the Universe. It was a voice that made everything living shiver slightly, somewhere deep down.
“I liked you better in Sandman.” She looked at her lifeless shell one more time before following, knelt down and stroked her former cheek. Then she kissed herself on the forehead, not that it meant anything at all, she realized.
The journey started from the forest. They trekked all through wilderness of every flavor, from the winter setting they started in to more permanently frozen climes, to rainforests and mountain areas. Anne never questioned why because it made perfect sense. Anyone who spends miles and miles of walking through nature would understand why this eased the transition between worlds. Little by little, mystic forces oozed out of the spaces between everyday reality. Facades of humanity fell away like bodies, and the wisdom of the ancients revealed itself through the tongues of fauna and the scent of flora.
“Okay, now that I think about it, what was the point of the snow?”
“Desolation,” Death whispered as the wind, as the pale phantom of a thought lingering below consciousness.
“Hmm, yes. Quite dramatic. But then, I always have my guide.”
“When Death is your guide, you walk everywhere alone.”
For the first time in a hundred years, Anne cried. Death had been her guide before she was ever dead. Walking with a vague anthropomorphization of the concept was the least she'd been alone in a long time.
“I think I love you, Death.”
There was no response. It was to be expected, because when you love emptiness you expect your words to fall lifeless from your mouth as if you'd tried to scream in the vacuum of space. When you love nothingness, that's just nostalgic: the absence of warmth is comforting, and its presence is confusing and sad. They trudged on through the last empty spaces of the world, never getting to close to any human presence, never even near enough to hear them. It was to Anne as if no one had ever existed, now or ever, and her life and everyone else's was all a dream.
When the last revelation had sunken completely into her soul, everything disappeared. There were no trees, no birds, no skies, no earth. There was no light, no sound, and no smell. Growing bored, Anne tried to scream. It still sounded in her mind, but no more than that. It left a sense of dissatisfaction, as yelling in your mind is nothing like the release of the real thing.
“It's okay. I am here. I am everywhere. I am all.”
The words failed to console, because they were unexpected, arising from nothingness and falling into it again just as abruptly, so it was unclear that they were ever there at all.
“Who's there?” She thought in her head as loudly as she could, hoping the voice would hear.
“Everyone. I am all. I am you and not you.”
“I'm really not in the mood for this right now. I'm too busy freaking out to deal with another cryptic cliche.”
The silence echoed in her mind, getting louder and louder, buzzing, overlapping until it was a sonic boom. It was deafening, and in the deafness the sound receded, and then in the renewed silence it slowly waxed again. Fell, then rose, now gaining period. The rhythm continued, grew faster, more articulated. It was a pulse. Her pulse, ringing in her ears with a throb of blood, running through veins and arteries that hadn't existed before.
"What is made cannot be unmade," a voice whispered. "You could only run from life for so many millenia."
"Where's Death? I miss Death."
"You are a soul that will always live with death, but like all things, you must live to long for release. This is not punishment, but you are banished again to Earth. I must take your identity away, but you will retain your essence. I hope you are a sensible person the next time we meet."
She re-entered the world crying, and kept mourning for years until that old self was completely forgotten.